Ron Wyden takes a buzzer-beating shot at billionaires

“I know about as much about it as you just said. I would definitely be open to take a look and see if it’s fair, ”said Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) When asked about the proposed billionaire tax. “My concern is that … we are probably looking at things that are far more painful because of things that have been taken off the table.”

The lanky and affable Wyden hopes to stifle these kinds of talks by Wednesday when he plans to get the text of his proposal to a split Democratic Party exhausted by a number of belated deadlines for a deal. Even then, the House will likely stand behind its funding package, which was approved by the committee nearly two months ago. It’s a nascent stalemate that threatens to hold back progress in finalizing President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda this week.

At the moment, Democratic aides described lawmakers as concerned about seeing Wyden’s end product after more than two years of talks. Wyden said Tuesday he had spoken to Sinema about his plan and appeared unimpressed by the arrows he is taking from Neal and other Ways and Means members. As Wyden sees it, House colleagues have played a good game of taxing the rich, but only his idea would get into the fortunes of billionaires who don’t pay income taxes.

Billionaires “don’t take wages. When the House talks about different approaches to increasing adjusted gross income taxes or the like, the fact is that without an approach like ours, no billionaires are going to get billionaires to pay taxes, ”said Wyden.

Wyden is a unique part of Congress, young enough to get through the Senate votes in “Rip City” hats to celebrate his beloved Portland Trail Blazers. A House veteran himself, he served throughout the Capitol from 1981 to 1996 before winning a seat in the Oregon Senate.

And despite his optimistic charisma, he is no stranger to struggles with his own party. In 2014 he struggled to adopt plans to fund transportation and arrange payments from Medicare doctors, then a year later a trade deal was struck over objections from progressives, including then Nevada Democratic leader Harry Reid.

After six years in the minority, the finance chairman is now under pressure to come up with a tax proposal that targets the rich but doesn’t cross Sinema’s red lines. And it could please Sinema because it targets fewer of its voters for tax hikes than a direct higher income tax rate.

Much depends on his work: if his proposal to tax billionaires’ unrealized assets fails, Democrats could end months of social spending talks without substantial reforms to reach the rich through tax legislation.

That would be a significant disappointment for a party that has built its platform around watering the rich for years, even more so after former President Donald Trump cut taxes in 2017. Since then, Wyden has been at the forefront of billionaire tax, also known as mark-to-market, for the valuation of assets that haven’t been sold.

Even if Wyden’s plan is implemented, he will almost certainly face legal challenges; Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, argued, “It is likely to be unconstitutional.” Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) Acknowledged that circumstances “are putting more pressure on getting this right”.

“Of course, the areas have been narrowed to make it difficult for the finance committee to draft effective statutes. Dealing with mark-to-market issues is a difficult design task under any circumstances. But Sen. Wyden worked on it for a long time, ”Cardin said.

That is no consolation for the House of Representatives, who put together a $ 3.5 trillion funding package in September for social spending and the party’s climate ambitions. Neal has repeatedly raised concerns about not being able to see Wyden’s language, saying Tuesday that paying the bill “seems harder to me every day without the Ways and Means package.”

Without legislative language for Wyden’s plan, negotiators cannot get an official score for knowing how much money the provision would bring – a major barrier to reaching a deal under the current time constraints, according to House Democrats. Senate Democrats believe Wyden’s tax will bring in hundreds of billions of dollars.

Privately, Neal and other House Democrats are angry about the recent turnaround in the negotiations.

The two tax chiefs never had a close working relationship, with Neal mostly taking an indifferent stance towards his former housemate, according to several Democrats. But in the past few days, Neal has grown angry when his panel’s work is tossed aside on an idea that he and other Democrats consider complicated and undeveloped.

“We have to be polite to our Senate friends, but I think we are way ahead of the Senate when we have thought through all the revenue measures,” said MP Don Beyer (D-Va.).

Likewise, Senate Democrats say House members don’t understand the face of math senators. If Sinema doesn’t hike rates, Wyden will have to do something to circumvent its position and still keep the party’s promises.

“We just have to find pay-fors that 50 Democrats can agree on,” said Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., Raised concerns about the proposal at the Democratic luncheon Tuesday, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Recalled Warner telling his colleagues, “We need to understand the numbers better “. . “

Tension between the House of Representatives and the Senate is nothing new, but the party is in a unique pressure cooker this week. Biden travels overseas, there are two gubernatorial competitions next week, and the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill has been stuck in the House of Representatives for almost three months.

A quick deal could change all of that, but there is no guarantee that Wyden’s proposal will work for everyone or be implemented quickly. For many democratic lawmakers, taxing the unrealized wealth of a particular class of wealthy people is a new concept that deserves scrutiny.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done in a relatively short amount of time and I think it is perfectly appropriate for Senators to want to step on the tires,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (DR.I.). “The House plays an important role in looking over our shoulders when they are asked to vote on it.”

Wyden said no senators had objected to billionaires to date, and Kaine said he had “no grumbling” about the specific proposal. Cardin said if an agreement is reached on Biden’s social spending plan this week, “I think it will be in there.”

That would be a huge win for Wyden, given the scrutiny he received this week. And for his party, the tax would finally be an unfulfilled process to address the rich in a more targeted manner.

“More and more senators heard that the billionaires made about $ 2 trillion during the pandemic,” said Wyden. “You have to get to the core problem of billionaires.”

Bernie Becker contributed to this report.

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